Just before my big fall in 2010, against my better wishes I started taking Effexor for depression. Big mistake. Big mistake because it led to me picking up a drink again for the first time in seven years. Big mistake because picking up a drink led to a series of really bad decisions that sent my life tumbling in more ways than there's room to describe here.
One thing I really liked about that drug, though. I felt relaxed in a way that I could never remember having felt before. I thought, Is this how normal people feel? I could get used to this. Caveat: when I realized what the drug was doing to me, I went off it and that was like putting myself through electroshock therapy and that convinced me to never, ever go on another psychotropic drug again.
But back to that experience of relaxation... I bring it up because that's the way I've felt all weekend. It worries me. Not because of the aforementioned experience. Because feeling relaxed actually concerns me.
I think that it works like this. I am responsible for everything. If I don't do it, it won't get done. If I don't hustle, I won't make moola. If I don't make moola, I'll land on the streets. If I relax for a moment, the whole world will fall apart. More, but you get the idea.
Yes, I know this is ridiculous but this is how I feel most of the time. Also, I'll drink coffee to rev myself up because, hey, if I'm not revved up, how am I going to do everything that needs to be done? I am actually addicted/allergic to coffee and it wreaks havoc with my skin, eyes and energy. The complexities of addiction are almost endless.
But this leads me to a key ingredient of sobriety. Also a key to the anxiety that is one cause of wanting to go unconscious with drink.
Thomas Merton once said that
"Anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity."
So, for me, thinking that I have to get everything done on my own, by myself and all of the anxiety that creates within me means that I don't trust in god (or the universe or the great creator or what have you) to take care of all things beyond my control. And almost all of everything is beyond my control. Except for example the cat hair collecting in a dust bunny on the floor. I could sweep that up.
If I quit trying so damned hard to solve every problem or to go unconscious in some way because I'm out of my mind with trying to figure out solutions and let god or the universe in on the game, wow, solutions, people, miracles, opportunities beyond my wildest ken might arise in response to my saying, hey, god... I have no idea what to do here, why don't you work it out? Yes that's one sentence. William Faulkner.
Therefore, my lack of trust in god creates my anxiety. I've become accustomed to feeling anxious (big-time, long-term). My anxiety has, in the past, caused me to drink. I am not used to feeling relaxed. Feeling relaxed makes me nervous. That's an oxymoron if I've every read one.
And, the basic key to quitting drinking via the A.A. program is to turn my will and my life over to the care of the god of my understanding. I don't buy everything in the program but I do think there's a lot to be said for that particular practice.
It's interesting that the same issue (not trusting) that made me anxious, set me up for drinking, and is the solution (trusting) for both anxiety and drinking. I think there's a scientific term for that sort of dynamic.
My job right now is to practice trusting the universe, the great creator, the all almighty that cannot be named to take the wheel. This is not a foreign concept to me. I just need to put it front and center as a practice.
All of that is just to say that I've felt remarkably relaxed this weekend. This feeling of relaxation concerns me a bit but that may just be habit. Probably is.
Great. Another habit!
Just like that, my mood can change. Usually after a good night's sleep, or even a nap, my curmudgeonliness can flip to joy and easy smiles.
The weather around my parts changed yesterday. It has been too hot and humid way past summer. Finally, the weather broke and cooled off and dried up. Thank god.
The weather affects our moods so dramatically. I don't mind rain. In fact, I like it. I like a good storm, too. Sunlight is delightful. Even heat for a little while. But incessant heat and humidity day after day, month after month was beyond oppressive. I can't take it anymore.
Alcohol has been beyond oppressive in my life, my body, mind and soul, too. I may not have control over the weather but I do have control over whether or not I will drink. Whatever it takes to get me to not pick up, I'll do it.
For some, it's doing the twelve steps and going to meetings. I think that the steps are great though I have a hard time with meetings and have had hard turns with sponsors. Of course, they've all only been people steering themselves away from alcohol and trying to help others do the same. There is nothing wrong with that. Me, I need a toolbox full of options.
I find that the main thing is to be with sober people. To be with people, period. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Isolation is death. Community is life.
Now this is tough when you're an oversensitive creature like myself who works independently for the most part and really needs downtime, alone.
But as with everything, we have to find a happy medium. One hot and humid day is balanced nicely by one that's cool and dry. One day of itchy mind and crawling skin is relieved by a good night's sleep and a relaxing day.
Variety makes the world turn. Day. Night. Light. Dark. Rain clouds. Sunny blue skies.
The trick is to ride the wave of weather, the emotional swings, and to appreciate the journey and find joy in being alive, breathing, and the wonder of it all.
Addiction is ridiculous.
Honestly, what is up with these substitutes I cave to? Full disclosure, I've been using cigarettes as a crutch to get me through early sobriety. I am so sensitive to cigarettes that I can only smoke two a day (three at the very most), not even the entire cigarette and I feel so toxed out, my brain is foggy and I my body feels heavy laden (with toxins). Yes, even the organic brand with no added chemicals (or so they say).
Thank god, I'm a lightweight. How people ever smoked a pack a day is beyond me. It's a cumulative effect and the more days I smoke, the worse my skin looks.
If I weren't so brain fogged, I would wax on about the hand to mouth routine and the stuff anything but alcohol into my pie hole to keep alcohol from going in. All of that habitual action is part of the addiction. I know that I'll drop the cigarettes very, very soon because I actually can't stand them.
That's what's so ridiculous about addiction. Why put something into your system that you know is bad for you and that you want to quit?
Of course there's loads of science now that answers just that very question. It's a battle between the lower brain, the body trained by the lower brain and the physical set of habits so strengthened by practice that they override the pre-frontal cortex. It's more complicated than that and involves dopamine, oxytocin, neurotransmitters and things like not bonding with mother right off the bat because of things we never had control over. Fascinating, complex, ridiculous, challenging.
Aside from nutritional support, comrades going through similar journeys, meditation, physical activity, development of self-awareness and other things, strengthening the pre-frontal cortex is where it's at.
The pre-frontal cortex is the seat of impulse control. Impulse control is the key and the trick is to put that pre-frontal cortex in charge of the body as in the hand reaching for the drink or the cigarette or the cookie.
That's the key but, of course, there's much more to it than that. The question is how badly do you want it? How strongly do you want to feel healthy and radiant? What are you willing to do to help your pre-frontal cortex win out over muscle memory? How long are you going to play the game of self-sabotage?
Those are questions you can sit with. I'm sitting with them, too.
Honestly, it's really great to have some project or to create some project for yourself in early sobriety. Work off your early days creatively.
I've had the fortune of a painting commission. I've been working at it for about four or five days interrupted by two teaching days. I think that it's complete now but I'm going to sleep on it.
I'm happy with it and grateful for the project. If you're in early sobriety and biting your nails or something, make a list of everything you could do. Draw, sing, make up a song, make up a dance, knit, leaf through a Martha Stewart Living magazine if your imagination is not in gear. Cook some great meal just for fun. Practice an instrument.
Get involved with a creative project for the sake of doing the thing not to be great at it. This is definitely not the time to be saying that you're no good at anything. Who cares? It takes a gazillion hours of practice to get good at something. Just start for the fun of it.
Pick up a pencil or pen and start making marks on a piece of paper. The marks don't have to look like anything at all. Start a doodle diary. There's an idea.
Watch your crazy thinking evaporate and your energy flow into making something. It's a good thing.
This morning I received word that my mother's last sibling passed away.
My tears flowed. Through two meditations. I looked at photos of my mother as a teen and somewhere near 70 years. When I could not stop crying, I called my best friend who was able to listen for a while. That helped tremendously.
It's the end of an era and really all that bound me to blood relatives except for blood. I cannot attend the services and the thought of seeing gangs of relatives, frankly, leaves me woozy. Especially so early in this phase of sobriety. No need to go into any further detail or explanation. This is neither the time nor the place.
Except to say that if felt good to cry, to let the water flow freely, to let myself feel released. Cleansing, detoxifying.
While preparing this post, I thought, my god, I don't want to go rummaging through a box of family photos and then thought of this song, The Parting Glass which is apt. I love the simple arrangement and especially the way Luke MacFarlane sings it.
Of all the money that e'er I had
I spent it in good company
And all the harm I've ever done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all
But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be with you all
Especially if you've just begun your journey of healing, remember this.
"Any malady in your physical body was a lot longer in coming than it takes to release it."
When the moon is new, the stars are bright.
What I love most about new moons is that each provides opportunity to start anew, to plant new seeds.
Best new moon practice is to sit still with yourself, light a candle, write out some intentions of what you desire to unfold over the next two weeks, 30 days, six months. Set those intentions.
I've set intentions with new moons for years but now... I am making commitments to myself. Not too many! Just one will do.
In light of the theme of this blog, I encourage you to commit to yourself that you will greet each coming day with a commitment to yourself to not allow alcohol into your mouth for that new day.
Got that? Commit yourself to commit yourself day by day. That is a tried and true formula.
Tonight's new moon is in Libra. Libra is all about balance, fairness, partnership. How about allowing your body, mind and spirit to come into balance. Treat yourself fairly when you slip into harsh self-judgement. Be your own best friend and love yourself when your thoughts turn against you.
Those are my tips for tonight's new moon. Don't just set intentions. Make a commitment. To yourself.
Honor yourself. You're the only you there is. This is the only life you've got.
This is the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.
After the first few days of adjustment, you may notice that time becomes more available.
Sure, it is now possible to do more because you are no longer knocking yourself unconscious but even better,
you become more available.
When you start regaining consciousness, life opens up. You will be reminded of anxious thoughts that may have once made you want to knock yourself out. You will also notice more details in your environment. You may experience fatigue but you will also find a drive to do, to take little actions. Do take little actions. Don't try to conquer anything major.
About those anxious thoughts that arise... I encourage you to allow them to be. No, it's not always going to be easy.
Sit with those thoughts. Notice their images, texture, words, placement (if they're in the past or future). Notice how familiar they feel. Feel what is happening in your body. Where are they making you tense? How are they making you want to react?
You are going to be uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable. The discomfort will pass. It'll come back again. Then it will pass again.
In fact, you've gotten into a habit of being uncomfortably sick from alcohol. The discomfort you notice now is the weirdness of not knocking yourself unconscious when habits of thought arise.
Is that too convoluted? Basically, you're trading one way of dealing with discomfort with a different (better) way of being uncomfortable.
So what are you supposed to do about it?
Breathe. Just breathe. Then notice where you are. What's in your room? If you're outside or in the car, notice the trees or buildings. Feel your hands on the steering wheel. Connect to your immediate environment. Get into your body (and out of your mind).
See what that does for you.
Here's what you're doing. You are starting a practice of putting your higher mind (as in your pre-frontal cortex) in charge. Much, much more on that later. But for now, every time you have a thought that makes you want to react by reaching for a drink:
Notice where you are
Get into your physical body
Sit with the thought until it passes
It's a practice. Practice doing this.
Time will open up.
After a binge, it's going to take a few days to set yourself straight.
My last binge involved four nips of Jameson's, three glasses of red wine and a large pizza. By my third day sober, my body was still begging for good digestion.
But did I sip ginger tea, lemon water and eat cucumbers? No (although that would have been a very good idea.) I ate more bad carbs, drank coffee and ! smoked cigarettes. Now, I can only tolerate 3 cigarettes at the most without feeling like I've been hit by a truck in the morning but I am revealing my less than wise choices in the first few days of releasing myself from alcohol because I want to make a point.
AA rooms are often set with coffee and cookies and smokers outside. Common recommendations are often to allow yourself sweets and any sort of substitute of something, anything!, to put in your mouth instead of alcohol. So, okay. If you have to go with it, do whatever it takes to not let alcohol pass your lips. For just a little while.
On my third day sober, I ate a huge chocolate chip cookie. It took me all day to work my way through it because my stomach (which was still digesting pizza) was like, uh-uh. Don't do it. But I did. And I suffered a bit.
If you have to stuff something in your mouth instead of alcohol for the first few days, go for it. But do it with awareness.
Become aware of how easy it is to substitute one habit for another. Do you want to substitute over-eating for over-drinking? Probably not. You do not have to.
If you are newly sober, you may crave sugar and highly processed "foods". Just be aware that drinking alcohol causes your blood sugar levels to drop and when your body is adjusting to being alive without alcohol, it'll probably take a little while for your blood sugar levels to adjust. That's an educated guess. I'm not a doctor.
And there's probably no question about developing an addiction to nicotine just because you've quit drinking. Right?
In your first few days, your first week or so, your body is like, whoa! What is happening? The body is a magnificent instrument. It will learn to readjust and heal itself. With your common sense.
While this is happening, what your mind can do is notice your knee jerk reactions to the process of your body trying to right itself.
Give yourself a break. Do not beat yourself up. If you feel ugghish, sluggish, if your tummy is distressed and you want to stuff your pie hole with anything that fits, well, just become aware of what you are doing and how it makes you feel.
Awareness is half the battle. You became aware that alcohol was a problem for you. Now, you're going to expand that awareness. Get into how your body feels.
And, by the way, give yourself a happy pat on the back for not putting any alcohol into your mouth. And a huge round of applause.
You are righting your mighty ship! That is the ship of your soul.
It's a pledge. When you make a commitment, you obligate yourself. The use or embodiment of the act of commitment is one of the first concepts I learned in my training as a life coach.
If you struggle with sobriety, if you struggle with relapse, if you've ever woken up after a hangover and sworn that you will never touch a drop again, and yet... you did, this post is for you.
Have you sworn a pledge to yourself? Have you obligated yourself to your own best life (because that's what an alcohol-free life will bring you)? Have you untangled your promise to never pick up a drink again from your feelings of regret, self-loathing, hopelessness, powerlessness, lack of self worth?
Whatever you may have been taught to think of power and powerlessness when it comes to the use and abuse of alcohol, one thing is for sure...
You have the power to commit to yourself!
Now I'm going to tell you a bit about W. H. Murray.
Murray was a Scottish mountaineer who was captured and held in several Nazi prisoner-of-war camps for three years. During that time, in poor health and without proper nutrition, Murray wrote the draft of a book called Mountaineering in Scotland on rough toilet paper. The Gestapo found the first draft and destroyed it. Murray then re-wrote the book, again on toilet paper. After the war, he published the book and then wrote another.
I share that bit about Murray with you as an example of determined commitment. But the real reason I bring him up is to share his quote with you. One of my most favorite quotes ever because it's true, because it's helped me in the past, I am using it today to help myself and, I hope, to help you.
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
'Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!' "
—W. H. Murray
Take the first step now. Even if you've taken first steps before. Do it again.
Commit to yourself. Put one foot in front of the other. Begin.
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